Telstra boss Andy Penn has announced that local and national calls to standard fixed line numbers and calls to standard Australian mobiles on Telstra’s public payphones are now free. Calls to international numbers will still be charged.

This is a good community spirited move by Telstra. It loses them about 5.5 million dollars in annual revenue but that’s a drop in the bucket for them compared to their annual revenue of 23 billion dollars.

The change means any Australian can now use a Telstra 15,000 payphone on street corners and in the tiny towns, truck stops and airports in every corner of the country to make calls for free.

Payphones have been part of Australia’s landscape since they were first used in the 1880’s and at one point – just before the arrival of mobiles – there were more than double the number that we have today.

Since mobiles became nearly universal, a lot of Australians might not give them much thought. Until there’s a natural disaster. Until you’re in vulnerable circumstances, homeless or fleeing domestic violence.

That’s why Telstra says they decided it’s time to make payphones free. Because even in the age of the smartphone they play such a critical role in our community, particularly in times of need, and particularly for those in need.

Penn said:

“I’ve seen myself how much payphones are part of the fabric of Australia and how important they are in good times, and bad. I’ve seen queues of people waiting in line, coins at the ready, to use a payphone to call home and tell their family and friends they’re safe after a bushfire, a cyclone or some other natural disaster has taken the mobile network down.”

“I know payphones are also a lifeline for thousands of vulnerable Australians – the homeless, the isolated, those escaping domestic violence – and often provide their only link to critical support services and those that care about them.”

Last year alone Australians made 11 million calls on payphones, including more than 230,000 calls to vital services like Triple Zero, so there’s no doubt payphones are already often the lifeline that’s there when it’s needed most.

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In the current covid times, I wouldn’t even go near them.